Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Let’s Go Baby, Let’s Go To Jardine Steps (By Peter Chan)

Ask yourself this question; “Beside the F1 Singapore GP, what else has the Government tried to do marketing Singapore to the world?”

I could not think of a good answer until I took some clues from a stack of old photographs about Jardine Steps, a name much better known to many British military servicemen and international tourists from  ocean-liners that berthed here.  Twenty years ago, the stretch from Keppel Road to Teluk Blangah Road was very unsightly; being a container port, there were many giant cranes and container trucks.  Going further back in time, the sight was boring because the waterfront was dotted with warehouses, docks and ship-repairing activities.

 Photo 1: Jardine Steps (c 1980)

Teluk Blangah Road only assumed a more commercial outlook after the World Trade Center (WTC) was built by the Port of Singapore Authority (PSA). The WTC was modeled after its American namesake in New York.  WTC had a special members club at one corner of the building on the top floor.  It was a privilege to be an invited guest. 

When Singapore hosted big Meetings, Incentives, Conventions and Exhibitions (MICE) events, there were none available like what we have today at Marina Sands, SUNTEC City or at the Singapore Expo.  The only place with “column-free” space was at Jardine Step where original warehouses (then called exhibition halls) were refurbished and additional ones built.  For some of us we might remember the popular international orchid shows were held at Gay World Stadium, trade fairs at Kallang Park and the Great World Amusement Park.

Photo 2: Publicity materials for Miss Universe Pageant (c 1987)

In 1987, Singapore hosted the world-renowned Miss Universe Pageant.  The event was held at one of the “exhibition halls”.  More memories kept flowing once you can recall the Miss Universe Pageant.  It was an international beauty show televised “live” on national television and beamed to the rest of the world.  Whilst Singapore saw it “live” during daylight hours, the rest of the world saw Singapore in the night.   James Tann vividly recalled it was held at Exhibition Hall 3 because he was one of the ushers.  Wanting to have a close-up look at the beauties, I took leave from the office but for those who had to work, many had to turn to the company’s audio-video room or the canteens. 

Photo 3: The main stage of the Miss Universe Pageant (1987)

I felt somewhat awkward when I sensed a “script” to hard-sell Singapore.  Just listen to the slogan “Surprising Singapore” or watch the multi-racial cultural dance show-pieces.  Then there was the giant sphinx-like lion at center stage to remind us of our mythical origins.  How about the time when the Miss Singapore, Marion Teo, was asked by the American MC what she would tell the world about Singapore?  

The event proper began with sixty-eight beauties dressed in national costumes descending the two staircases singing the theme song from the pop group Wang Chung, "Let's go, baby, let's go, baby...come on!!...a party all over the world!!"  Each time you tuned into the English radio station, that song was surely the one you often hear.  When you drive, you tap your feet or your hands on the steering wheel. 

The Parade of Nations follows with quite a few memorable costumes but already bookies were placing bets that one of the Latinos from Miss Venezuela, Miss Colombia, Miss Chile, Miss Paraguay or Miss Puerto Rico  could be crowned as the winner.  Asia’s best bet was Ms. Philippines.  

How did the bookies and the guys come to the conclusion? 
Are you aware that the demographics of the Miss Universe Pageant winners follow certain practices?  Some years the winner emerges from Asia, most times from the Americas.  Also some years the trend is for fair-complexion and other times for chocos.

We got to see the pre-recorded swim suite parades but felt the Asian beauties “lost” because of the lack of stage presence – physical height and assets.  No one doubted Miss U.S.A. had a pair of solid gold which in itself was hard to beat.  When Miss Singapore got to the semi-finals, we were not certain Singapore stood a chance.  Reviewing the interview video clip, you can make your own conclusions.

Photo 4: Vivocity today

After a couple of more years of intensive use as a MICE site for computers and heavy machinery, the exhibition halls were eventually torn down and rebuilt.  So now you have it, the story of one great event at Jardine Step before it became Vivocity.


TheSounDOne said...

I dont remember it as Jardine Step though. I often simply refer it to World Trade Center. My memories of that area;

1. The warehouses next to WTC.
2. Singapore 25th anniversary of self independence exhibition was held in 3 halls back in 1984. As a school by then, i went crazy over the SAF portion of the display.
3. The annual book fair.
4. Sometime, i would take a direct bus (124 and or 145) from my home in Whampoa to WTC and go there walk walk for the sake of passing time.

Anonymous said...


Same here, I didn't know it was called Jardine Step. I think most people my age call it World Trade Centre Exhibition Halls.

I remember going there for the "25 Years of Nation Building" (建国二十五周年)exhibition too. I was in secondary school then.

Anonymous said...

Wasn't Jardine Steps where the ferries to Sentosa departed from ? Jardine Steps was the jetty in between Cable Car Towers and World Trade Centre. Keppel Shipyard was to the West, followed by Cable Car Towers, Jardine Steps, World Trade Centre, and then the WTC Exhibition Halls, with Prima flour mill to the East.

Bill Tong said...

Yes, Jardine Steps was in between wtc and the cable car towers --- or that's how I remember it from the 1980s, when I was in primary school.

There was a McDonald's there; it was where I ate my first McWings and McRibs. Haha it was awesome - even if I do hate McDs now.

I sometimes find it hard to reconcile my old, fond memories of places with how different the same space is today. It's such a shame.

Yes,we're a small country and the turnover for land use will be high, but still I can't help feeling most of the changes and the destruction of the old came with hasty decisions, greed and a lack of foresight.

Oh well.

Jan Frances said...

15/4/2015, Levin, New Zealand. I was born in Gisborne, New Zealand on 1 May 1943, which makes me coming up to 72 in a couple of weeks. My father was William Robert Jardine, therefore it was my maiden name. There were 4 children in the family with me being the youngest. I had a sister Valerie who is now deceased, a sister Lola Isabel who is in her 90's and still lives in Gisborne. She has a lot of information about the Jardine Family, including the Jardine Steps (as we know it) in Singapore,Peter who is also deceased. My fathers' father our grandfather) was an engineer and they spent some time living in Singapore. According to what we were told by our father, Jardine Steps were named after our grand- father. Some years ago I went to Singapore and it was a very long building and was called "Engineering Building". I tried to find out information about the Jardine family through the Singapore but according to the people working in the Archives building who were not very forth-coming with any information told me they had only just started building their archives and had nothing that would be of interest to me. Lola's son Brett went to Singapore some time after me and he was treated differently than I had been, probably because he was a male. He got a lot of information from the Archives about our grandfather and the history of his life whilst living in Singapore. I know my fathers' mother died in child birth when my father was born in 1893 and his father married a Singaporian woman and they had children. I had photos of our father as a boy taken with his stepmother and step brothers and sisters. There was no doubt at all that it was our father. My sister Lola in Gisborne now has those photos.

It would be nice to hear from anybody who could send me any information about my family history in Singapore. Our father was a man of few words so he didn't tell us much. I think he was about 9 years or so when him and his father came to New Zealand to live. Regards,Jan

My email address is :


Anonymous said...

I remember going to pulau belakang mati(sentosa) and pulau brani by motor-propelled sampan in the 1960s with my relatives. I was still in primary school. We paid the Ah Peks about 40cents per person. Jardine Steps was the place.